i. the menace of Jane Fonda
Propaganda invariably reveals its purposes by its very practice. I have noticed a low-key PR campaign that’s been going on for the past few months, to sell the nuclear industry to a new generation of voters too young to remember Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.
The latest broadside appeared this morning in the New York Times Magazine.
Placing a piece in the Times is a PR agent’s wet dream, and can be quoted in a thousand brochures, power point presentations, interviews, press releases, etc. It can be emblazoned on coffee mugs, keychains, t-shirts, and, most importantly, on the brains of credulous voters.
The whole P.R. nature of the piece is apparent from the headline on, as is the target demographic. Operating under the seeming “show biz” anecdote meme, in fact, it’s a hatchet job, a Pavlovian conditioning (or, rather, an exploitation of a pre-existing Pavlovian conditioning) which, IN AND OF ITSELF, gives us the motivations of whoever paid for the writing of this piece by the authors of Freakonomics, Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt.
Readers may remember that I covered Christine Todd Whitman’s rebirth as a shill for the nuclear industry a few months back. (“Back At The Public Trough With Christine Todd Whitman“).
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Still, you ought to be warned that my objectivity — controversial as that claim may be in some circles — is not going to be readily apparent herein. I am virulently and adamantly opposed to nuclear power for domestic energy consumption, and I’m not particularly thrilled with it for weapons production, frankly.
Here’s the headline. See if you can suss out the demographic they’re trying to appeal to:
The Jane Fonda Effect
Hmmm. Yup. They’re using the March 1979 Jack Lemmon, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas movie “The China Syndrome” as a way of proving that nukes are good for you, by NEGATION. It’s the old “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” rationale, but there’s nothing rational about it. It’s straight reptile brain stuff, cunningly aimed at proving that Jane Fonda is really behind this anti-nuke nonsense, just as Al Gore is behind all this global warming nonsense.
And what’s truly mephistophelean in this is that, seeming to EMBRACE the concept of global warming, they can now blame Jane Fonda for … global warming?
Sorry, Virginia: there is no sanity clause.
ii. the menace of facts
It is cunningly constructed, this attempt at almost purely emotional manipulation, I’ll grant it that. It takes someone who’s written a lot of ad copy to appreciate just how cunningly.
Here’s the hook:
If you were asked to name the biggest global-warming villains of the past 30 years, here’s one name that probably wouldn’t spring to mind: Jane Fonda. But should it?
In the movie “The China Syndrome,” Fonda played a California TV reporter …
Now, there is a brilliant bit of backwards conflation here. You probably aren’t old enough to remember 1979’s ThreeMile Island Nuclear Accident, and seven years later, Chernobyl. This is what happened: The movie came out and Three Mile Island happened in the first week of the movie’s release. It was a weird timing. Ironically, the movie was, finally about the energy industry’s attempt to spin a nuclear accident that was taking place even while reporter Fonda, and a young Michael Douglas, as her bearded cameraman, accidentally film the accident as it’s underway.
Here’s the slipperiness of the essay: long sections are devoted to exposition, recap-ing the movie, explaining Three Mile Island, explaining Chernobyl, AS history. They even throw in an interview with Michael Douglas about how the movie changed his mind, here’s the carefully cherry-picked sound bite:
While Fonda was firmly anti-nuke before making the film, Douglas wasn’t so dogmatic. Now he was converted on the spot. “It was a religious awakening,” he recalled in a recent phone interview. “I felt it was God’s hand.”Fonda, meanwhile, became a full-fledged crusader. In a retrospective interview on the DVD edition of “The China Syndrome,” she notes with satisfaction …
Boom! There you have it, all this anti-nuke stuff is crazy moonbat silliness. Lunatic Jane Hanoism. You know.
Because the “fact” of Three Mile Island is now conflated with the fiction of the movie, to create a new fiction, that is, the public’s reaction (fear) was somehow falsely driven by Jane Fonda. Which means that Three Mile Island was actually NO BIG DEAL.
(I went to their website, supplied at the end of the article, and virtually ALL it contained were old reports on how Three Mile Island wasn’t so bad, was caused by human error, could never happen again etc. etc.)
Which makes the demographic undeniable. It’s aimed at people who have been conditioned to hate Jane Fonda. And, her moonbat, silly, smelly hippie antinuke minions.
The case they build, through a mish-mosh of entertainment history, political history and historical history is salted with this seemingly “scientific” bit of claptrap:
How do people weigh risk versus uncertainty? Consider a famous experiment that illustrates what is known as the Ellsberg Paradox. There are two urns. The first urn, you are told, contains 50 red balls and 50 black balls. The second one also contains 100 red and black balls, but the number of each color is unknown. If your task is to pick a red ball out of either urn, which urn do you choose?
It’s there to suggest that building lotsa new nukes is just a straight risk calculation, but people are irrationally askeert of them nukes. (Probably because of Jane Fonda.)
Most people pick the first urn, which suggests that they prefer a measurable risk to an immeasurable uncertainty. (This condition is known to economists as ambiguity aversion.) Could it be that nuclear energy, risks and all, is now seen as preferable to the uncertainties of global warming?
Don’t worry, it’s not rational. It’s meant to muddle the rational mind. So that the emotional appeal can be made. And don’t forget the branding:
Exelon, the largest nuclear company in the United States, claims to produce electricity at 1.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 2.2 cents for coal.
The accident at Three Mile Island ruined one of the two reactors on the site. The other one, operated by Exelon, continues to quietly churn out electricity for 800,000 customers. Outside the plant’s training center is a small vegetable garden enclosed in chain-link fencing: corn, tomatoes, beets. Its output is monitored to detect radiation. Although the garden was badly in need of watering during a recent visit, the vegetables were otherwise fine.
WHAT? So, because only one of two reactors had an accident and had to be dismantled … what? Your reactors only have a 50% faiure rate? Really? Sign me up! They’ve got a vegetable garden by the training center, and the plants are monitored for radiation and they’re NOT radioactive? We’re all safe from radioactive beets? Zowie! From the menace of mutant, radioactive tomatoes? Cowabunga!
Will nuclear plants ultimately get the same embrace? The market seems to think so — Exelon stock has tripled in the past five years — but it may all depend on what kind of thrillers Hollywood has in the pipeline.
( Hmmm. That Exelon. I should look into their stock.)
Everybody’s doing it!
France, which generates nearly 80 percent of its electricity by nuclear power, seems to think so. So do Belgium (56 percent), Sweden (47 percent) and more than a dozen other countries that generate at least one-fourth of their electricity by nuclear power. And who is the world’s single largest producer of nuclear energy?
Improbably enough, that would be . . . the United States. Even though the development of new nuclear plants stalled by the early 1980s, the country’s 104 reactors today produce nearly 20 percent of the electricity the nation consumes.
And remember, NOT going nuclear is FILLED with global warming conseqences:
But coal, too, has its costs, even beyond the threat of global warming. In the United States, an average of 33 coal miners are killed each year. In China, more than 4,700 coal miners were killed last year alone — a statistic that the Chinese government has trumpeted as a vast improvement.
Man, we gotta get off coal, QUICK!
iii. the menace of coal
The talking point (which I recognized from the Christine Todd Whitman interview back in July) is to sell the false “fact” that it’s ONLY nuclear versus coal for electricity. Which is patently false. The whole thrust of the sustainability movement has been to find stable renewable energy sources.
But the selling point is always, “We’re CLEANER than coal!”
That’s like saying “I’m closer to being a virgin than Madonna is.”
Or, “I’m more honest than George W. Bush!”
And, hey, they’re not like those mean, old fashioned reactors. Those were Model-T reactors! Check out our NEW IMPROVED reactors.
Inside, Christopher Crane, the chief operating officer of Exelon Generation, held forth on the barriers that the nuclear industry must clear before new plants can be built. Among them: the longstanding issue of how to dispose of spent fuel and whether the public has shaken its fear of new nuclear reactors.
Come again? What to do with the nuclear waste AND public fear of nukes (created by Jane Fonda and her addle-brained fellow protesters who CONFLATED the movie with Three Mile Island, and irrationally fear Our Pal, Nuclear Energy.)
Meet Mr. Atom. (Mr. Atom has a Mickey Mousesque Voice)
Hi, Kids, Mr. Atom here! You know, a lot of people wonder, WHERE are we going to put all those spent fuel rods that will remain at astonishingly high radiation levels (far above those found in nature) for hundreds of thousands of years.
iv. the menace of nuclear parole boards
But you know science. And scientists are working around the clock here, at Nuclear Energy Fantasyland Labs, and we’ll find a way to dispose of those pesky rods. Science will have a solution. Come on. Otherwise it’s COAL!
Crane sat in a conference room within the T.M.I. compound. The view outside was bleak: large, windowless buildings; fencing topped by razor wire; bulletproof sniper stands. Security at all nuclear plants has been heightened since 9/11. If you didn’t know better, you would think you were looking at a maximum-security prison.
OK: the conclusion is carefully left to the reader, but the point has been to characterize opposition to nuclear power a Red versus Blue thing, rather than a policy choice that this country made by common consensus two decades ago. The arguments haven’t fundamentally changed.
But … what’s being sold to us … is a Nuclear Penitentiary?
What the hell kind of madness is that?
A Nuclear Penitentiary that can never go wrong? Go bad? “A Chernobyl could NEVER happen here!” sounds an awfully lot like The Titanic is Unsinkable! That was the adline used to sell tickets to her only voyage. Funny thing about adlines.
Let me say this once: no foolproof device has ever been invented. To promise that the full potential of a nuclear reactor will never be realized — inasmuch as THAT much fissionable material is PRESENT and could never explode, let alone be EXPLODED (i.e. through a bomb, a missile, a hijacked airliner — is insane. It takes a Maginot Line in one’s brain to buy this hallucinogenic cheerfulness. And never mind the nuclear waste problem. Maybe it will go away. But FRANCE has 80 percent nuclear! We gotta jump on the reactor bandwagon.
Which is why this line is so terribly insulting (T.M.I. means “Three Mile Island” which the writers, in good ad writer practice, want to de-emphasize):
The T.M.I. accident was, according to a 1979 President’s Commission report, “initiated by mechanical malfunctions in the plant and made much worse by a combination of human errors.” Although some radiation was released, there was no meltdown through to the other side of the Earth — no “China syndrome” — nor, in fact, did the T.M.I. accident produce any deaths, injuries or significant damage except to the plant itself.
What it did produce, stoked by “The China Syndrome,” was a widespread panic. The nuclear industry, already foundering as a result of economic, regulatory and public pressures, halted plans for further expansion. And so, instead of becoming a nation with clean and cheap nuclear energy, as once seemed inevitable, the United States kept building power plants that burned coal and other fossil fuels.
That’s right, kiddies. Jane Fonda ROBBED us of a cheap and plentiful nuclear power Future, with Nuclear Prisons from coast to coast (so that no one could crash, say, a plane into one of them and render an area uninhabitable for hundreds, if not thousands of years). She robbed us of Mr. Atom! She caused GLOBAL WARMING!
Update 4:44 PM PDT: I should have looked a little more closely at the sleazy “freakonomics” page. When you type in the url at the bottom of the article, www.freakonomics.com, you get, instead, http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/
It’s a freaking “official” New York Times blog!
But WHY the subterfuge? (I’m sure it’s something like “people won’t type the Times URL in.)
And, without having looked, I inadvertently managed to supply dialog for the CARTOON that opens their video feed, Mr. Atom! (Or, should I say, “PROFESSOR Atom”?) Maybe I’m psychic? (Tell me they’re not SELLING their thesis that all this anti-nuke stuff is just Hanoi Jane hysteria. (Think they could be any more blatant?)
Here is the permanent link to their blog page on this article. And here, some even slimier rationalization caps a spectacularly sleazy chapter in the “let’s sell ’em nukes again!” campaign:
Still, the risks associated with nuclear power remain. The 1986 Chernobyl reactor meltdown in the Ukraine led directly to dozens of deaths, and has been implicated in more than 4,000 cases of thyroid cancer, according to the Chernobyl Forum Report. The accident spread radiation as far away as Sweden, where research has shown that children who were in utero at the time grew up to have significantly worse-than-average educational outcomes.
But even the Chernobyl deaths are dwarfed by the number of deaths attributable to coal mining — China reported 4,700 coal mining deaths last year. In the U.S., the Department of Labor reports coal mining deaths by state, an average of 33 a year.
Yeah, jerks, that evil COAL must be stopped! But, gee, Freakonomics shills: what kind of asshole thinks we won’t “get” that after a death in a coal mine, you don’t HAVE TO SHUT DOWN THE MINE FOR 100 YEARS! Are they serious? The death doesn’t float with the wind three countries away! And somehow us building nuclear power penitentiaries is going to make coal mining safer in … CHINA??!?! (Give me a moment to stop rolling on the floor in hysterical fits of laughter … There. Better now.)
Good ghod! If that’s how uncritically and fallaciously the “Freakonomics” boys think, then they really need to move their act to WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, between the devil children born with three heads and mutant vampire cows (downwind from Chernobyl?). I realize that we’re living in a Cyril M. Kornbluth short story, but even for morons, this stuff doesn’t march.
No: they’re selling. And the New York Times is aiding and abetting. Talk about “product placement”! (And talk about corrupt journalism.)